Lesson 4

What Is God?

Poster of God, wanted dead or alive One of the more misunderstood concepts among atheists and believers in God alike is the question of what God is. Many people have a physical "old man in the sky" concept like the picture to the left. We have a tendency to create God in our image instead of the other way around. It seems we all fall into the trap of conceiving of a God that has the same weaknesses and prejudices that we do, and we totally miss the real nature of God. We also cause enormous problems and doubts which are precipitated by our physical and anthropomorphic visualization of God.

From both a Biblical and a logical standpoint, it should be clear that God cannot rationally be understood as a man or a physical entity. We read descriptions of God in the Bible and, without exception, these descriptions are non-physical and non-anthropomorphic. Consider this partial list:

It is true that physical or human descriptions may be applied to God when the Bible explains how God does things. Consider these examples:

This use of accommodative language is familiar to all of us. When we talk about "the long arm of the law," do we mean that breaking a speed limit might cause a hand to come out of the sky and pick us up out of our car? Does "the face of America" refer to an actual face? These are words used to describe how something is or acts. So, too, are such descriptions of Gods activity. All descriptions of God, however, are totally non-anthropomorphic and non-physical.

It may sound, then, as if God cannot be understood and, while our minds do have limitations, this is simply not the case. What we do have to do to understand God's nature is to apply a technique of science. How do we understand an electron? We cannot see an electron because it is too small. We cannot bear, touch, smell, or taste a single electron for the same reason. What we do to understand an electron is to study its properties. By rubbing a hard rubber rod on a cat and touching it to a detector, we can establish some of its properties.

By more elaborate experiments, we can establish other properties. Eventually, we can identify so many properties that we can begin to use electrons for practical devices like television sets. The same method is involved in understanding atoms, neutrinos, photons, mesons, and a variety of other phenomena in science. Things like love, loyalty, patriotism, and the like are handled in the same way.

To understand God, we must study His properties. What is being done when the Bible says things like "God is love," "God is light," "God is a Spirit" and the like? These are properties of God, aren't they? The Bible is simply using a logical scientific technique to help us comprehend something which does not lend itself to empirical observation. We can understand God at least as completely as we can comprehend an electron by this technique. Most misunderstandings about God and man's relationship to Him are rooted in this difficulty. Let's examine a few instances of this.

God and Time

One of the more important attributes of God to understand is the fact that God is independent of time. God created time! All points of time are now to God. The Bible points out these relationships with passages like this:

It is important to realize that Einstein verified the relative nature of time. Time is not an ethereal substance evenly flowing through the cosmos. Time is a created thing, existent so that matter can exist and so that the physical world can be. Think of the understandings which are linked to the realization that God is independent of time!

How can God hear all of our prayers at once? God has all of eternity to listen to the last second prayer of a pilot as his plane goes down in flames. Time does not limit God.

How long did God need to create the Earth? None at all! God created time. He could have done everything or anything in an instant or He could take trillions of quadrillions of years.

What is Eternity? It is that situation where time does not exist!! Realize that if there is no time, there will be no death, either. Death is dependent on the passage of time. There will also be no physical pain or tears or crying! All of these things depend upon time. What we have is a perfect congruence with Revelation 21:4 –“...there shall be no more death. neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the forever things are passed away.”

Where did God come from or who created God? If God created time, then He was in existence before the beginning. This means God had no beginning and He was not created. In fact, the only way physical matter can exist is to be created by a time-independent God. When time stops, as II Peter 3:10 states, matter will dissolve.

God and Space

One of Einstein’s more interesting concepts involves the relationship of time and space. The point is that space and time are intimately related. In astronomy today, we speak of “space-time,” indicating this interdependence. To visualize this, you might think of how you could travel if you were independent of the time limitations. If time does not pass for you, you could be in California, New York, Miami, and on the Moon all at the same time--instantaneously. We even say “If only I had time, I would do…” (whatever we didn’t get done). We all recognize that time limits what we can do an where we can be in space.

If God is independent of time, then logically follows that He must also be unlimited in space. If every piece of time now to God, then every point in space must also be here and now to God. The idea that God is everywhere makes perfect sense when looked at in this way. Passages like Act 17:28 (“For in Him we live, and move, an have our being...”) take on a realistic connotation if we really think of the true nature of God. Even the ancient Biblical characters did not understand the nature o God to this extent. Adam and Eve though that they could hide from God. David thought he could commit a terrible sin with Bathsheba and somehow God would not find out. The followers of Jesus could not understand that Jesus’ kingdom “is not of this world.”

Today the same problems and misunderstandings exist. Many people do not understand that in God “we live and move and have our being.” We have people who feel that their behavior in the church buildings and in their daily lives are independent of each other. If we really understand and believe that “in Him we live and move and have our being,” then deliberate hypocrisy and living in opposition to Biblical principles are impossibilities. We also introduce insecurity and failure to believe God makes a difference when we fail to understand His nature.

In later lessons, we will continue this theme by looking at what man is. What does it mean to say that man is created in the image of God? It cannot refer to our physical likeness because God himself is not physical. What is the soul? How are we different than an ape or a dog? All of these concepts, as well as the whole subject of evolution, relate back to the spiritual nature of God.

© John N. Clayton

Lesson 4 Questions

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